Oregon takes two at Sunken Diamond

STANFORD - About halfway through the Pac-12 season, the conference race is starting to shape up. However, after their second series loss of the season, Stanford is not in the thick of it. UCLA (10-5) wrestled control away from Arizona by taking two in Tucson. The Cardinal (5-7), meanwhile, are now tasked with charging back over the final 18 games after dropping a home set against Oregon (10-5).

Mark Marquess' offense looked as if it had awoken through the three games entering the Ducks visit, which were highlighted by Monday's 19-run, 23-hit outburst in Berkeley. But then elite Pac-12 pitching turned around to give the Cardinal fits and tough times quickly returned to the lineup.

Reigning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week Alex Keudell made a strong case to hold onto that honor. He shut down the Cardinal over nine innings of work, limiting the bats to just one run in Oregon's 4-2, 10-inning Friday win. Fifteen hours later, the Ducks' Jake Reed tightened the stranglehold on Stanford's offense, shutting them out in Saturday's 5-0 win.

Although the Farm Boys were able to salvage the series with a 4-2 win Sunday, Stanford's disturbing lack of offense continued against control-based pitchers. Neither Keudell nor Reed throw gas; instead they rely on painting the corners keeping the ball down. In over 65 innings of work, in fact, Keudell has struck out only 37 batters, while Reed has punched out only 33 in just under 62 innings of work.

Yet the Ducks' arms have been dominant so far this season, and both pitchers added a previously devastating Stanford lineup to their list of victims on the season. The Cardinal's swings were off balance for two consecutive games, as Keudell's ERA improved to 1.92, and Reed now sports a 2.19 mark.

Struggles against dart-throwing pitchers are becoming a recurring concern for the Cardinal. Rice's Jordan Stephens was the first to shut Stanford out despite striking out two batters. Arizona's Konner Wade, another guy with velocity that peaks in the low 90s, recently beat the Cardinal by going the distance.

In a performance that underscored Stanford's recent troubles, UCLA didn't seem to care last weekend that Wade had dominated the Cardinal just two weeks previous. The Bruins turned around and bludgeoned him for six runs and 10 hits in just three innings, blasting their way to a 15-3 victory that helped position them alongside Oregon at the top of the conference.

That's the very same Ducks team that outplayed Stanford in all phases of the game this weekend. On Friday night, even though an error-plagued tenth inning compounded the Cardinal's hitting problems, the biggest concern leaving the game was Mark Appel's 149-pitch outing. For what it's worth, the ace was still dealing 97 mile-per-hour gas even as he approached the 150 pitch mark, but it really seems that a lack of trust in the bullpen may be beginning to wear on the Stanford starters.

Brett Mooneyham has lost three straight following his 5-0 start, and Appel can't last forever carrying such a heavy burden on his right arm. If the Cardinal's starting pitching implodes under duress at the same time that the team's offense is struggling, a team that entered the season with the highest of expectations is going to find itself in some mighty hot water.

Stanford needs to right the ship before that happens. Expect more of Garrett Hughes, David Schmidt, Spenser Linney, Sahil Bloom and Co. starting with San Jose State's visit Tuesday.

It's still hard to believe that the talented offense won't catch fire. Maybe alleviating pressure on the starting staff will indirectly provide the spark. Getting hot in the game of baseball happens in funky, domino-effect types of ways. The Cardinal need to immediately regain the heat they enjoyed earlier in the year to threaten in this year's brutal Pac-12.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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